This book has became larger than life for me, at least for the past 6 months. I have read so much rave reviews about it that I was afraid to read it, and even more afraid that I end up feeling shattered if I don’t like it.
“Save the best for the last”, I said to myself. So I read this as the final book of the J-Lit challenge 4.
When Toru Watanabe, a 37-year-old business man, hears his first love’s favourite Beatles song he is transported back 20 years to his college days in Tokyo.
Kizuki and Naoko grew up together and are lovers. Kizuki is Toru’s best friend. When Kizuki finally decided to end his life, bonded by a common friend, Toru got involved with Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko.
We soon discover that Naoko is not right in the head and the longest chapter, chapter 6 (page 118 to 219) was spent describing the life at the self-sustained Sanatorium in a secluded forest, where Toru paid Naoko a visit and met Naoko’s roommate, Reiko. This self contained world in Sanatorium bears the Murakami hallmark of the sealed-off, safe, imaginary and nostalgic world that happens in the mind or the memories, but because this is his most grounded novel ever written, it is a sanatorium in its physical and substantial form.
When Toru got back to his “real” life, a bubbly and erratic girl called Midori Kobayashi intruded Toru’s solitude life and Toru found himself falling in love with Midori.
Because I read so many of Murakami’s novels, trademark of his ideas borrowed from his other novels, or rather many later novels ideas borrow from Norwegian Wood (since this is published earlier) is evident. There are talks about food, record store, Western music and novels, sanctuary of the mind, a love triangle (you will find this in short story titled “Honey Pie” in Murakami’s After the Quake), sex and there are lots of it in this one.
I read many reviews about the book, but none prepare me for the graphical sex that is depicted in this book. I also didn’t know the central theme about the book was about mental illness and dealing with grief.
The intensity of love and desire are portrayed beautifully in this novel. The passion and impulse of young love draws us back to the days we might have our heart beating the fastest, kisses that lingers on our mind the longest, the words of love that we remembered eternally. Toru holds on to his love for Naoko and pinning for her recovery from mental illness prevent him from moving on with his life. From the very beginning, even with the appearance of Midori, I always know who Toru loves best. There was never any doubt. I see the core message of the book as one that reminds us to let go of the pain and loss and forge forward in life with courage, because it is easy to die, but living is hard.
Hey there, Kizuki, I thought. Unlike you, I’ve chosen to live – and to live the best I know how. Sure it was hard for you. What the hell, it’s hard for me. Really hard. And all because you killed yourself and left Naoko behind. – Toru page 327
And that Love and memories can be preserved, but it shouldn’t maim someone for life.
I came out of the book feeling funny about it. I really like it, but I didn’t love it. There were moments of brilliance but it was not sustain throughout. Almost anyone I talk to love Murakami novels, including myself, I think it is because this book is so different from his other novels that it stood out for me.
Some of favourite passages from the book:
Once long ago, when I was still young, when the memories were far more vivid than they are now, I often tried to write about her. But I couldn’t produce a line. Everything was too sharp and clear, so that I could never tell where to start – the way a map that shows too much can sometimes be useless. Now, though, I realise that all I can place in the imperfect vessel of writing are imperfect memories and imperfect thoughts. The more the memories of Naoko inside me fade, the more deeply I am able to understand her. – Toru page 10
“Which is why I am writing this book. To think. To understand. It just happens to be the way I’m made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.” ~ Toru Watanabe
“Life doesn’t require ideals. It requires standards of action.” Said Nagasawa.
“What is the ‘standard of action’ in your life?” Toru asked.
“To be a gentleman”.
“A gentleman? What does it mean to be a gentleman? How do you define it?” Toru asked.
“A gentleman is someone who does not what he wants to do but what he should do.” – Nagasawa page 71
What makes us normal is to know that we’re not normal – Reiko page 195
“All of us are imperfect human beings living in an imperfect world. We don’t live with the mechanical precision of a bank account or by measuring all our lines and angles with rulers and protractors.” ~ Reiko Ishida
I wrote a huge number of letters that spring: one a week to Naoko, several to Reiko, and several more to Midori. I wrote letters in lecture hall, I wrote letters at my desk at home with sea gull on my lap, I wrote letters at empty tables at home with Seagull on my lap, I wrote letters at empty tables during my breaks at the Italian restaurant. It was as if I were writing letters to hold together pieces of my crumbling life. – Toru page 341
My verdict: 4.5/5
What I like most about the book: Toru Watanabe. He is so compliance, easy going and comfortable to be with. The book is very readable. One that I would like to re-read. Although Murakami said it is not autobiographical, but I can’t shake off the feeling that many things in the book may be autobiographical.
What I like least about the book: I felt uncomfortable in places. Racy, some totally unnecessary; and why does Reiko Ishida has to be this involved with Toru??! Otherwise the book would have been perfect.
Paperback. [Vintage, 2003, originally published 1987],[387 pages],[Own book], Finished reading at: 31st January 2011. Translated by Jay Rubin.
The movie will be launched in the UK this March 2011, I’ll watch it.
Here’s what director Tranh Anh Hung says about it:
“When I read the book, I really had this intuition that it was possible to make a film out of it,” Tran said. “And then, when you start working on it, everything that’s left is fear – fear of not being able to do it.”
Matt (A guy’s moleskine notebook)
Bookie Mee (pre-blogging days – short review)
Stu (Winston’s Dad)
Lucybird’s Book Blog
Inverarity is not a Scottish Village
Astrid paramita (short review – she finished the book same day as I did).
Writer on Writers
Did I miss out yours? Let me know and I’ll add it in.
Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森 Noruwei no Mori) is published in 1987. 24 years and is included in Waterstone’s special edition of Vintage Classics. Murakami adapted the first section of the novel from an earlier short story, “Firefly.” The story was subsequently included in the collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. The novel is set in Tokyo during the late 1960s, a time when Japanese students, like those of many other nations, were protesting against the established order.
Norwegian Wood has been translated into English twice. The first was by Alfred Birnbaum (who translated many of Murakami’s earlier novels) and was published in 1989 in Japan by Kodansha as part of the Kodansha English Library series. Like other books in this pocket-sized series, the English text was intended for Japanese students of English, and even featured an appendix listing the Japanese text for key English phrases encountered in the novel. Notably, this edition kept the two-volume division of the original Japanese version and its color scheme — the first volume having a red cover, the second green (the first UK edition in 2000 would also keep this division and appearance). This earlier translation has been discontinued in Japan.
The second translation, by Jay Rubin, is the authorized version for publication outside Japan and was first published in 2000 by Harvill Press in the UK, and Vintage International in the USA.
The two translations differ somewhat. Of note, there are some differences in nicknames: Toru’s roommate, for example, is called “Kamikaze” in the Birnbaum translation, and “Storm Trooper” in the Rubin translation.